Submitted by damienveatch on December 15, 2009

decapitalize vs. uncapitalize

I’m stuck on the correct use of “un-” (as in “reverse action”) and “de-”. Specifically, I want to write that a student should change an incorrectly capitalized word to the lower case. Should he “uncapitalize” it or “decapitalize” it? It’s true that the word should be uncapitalized, but since he incorrectly capitalized it in the first place, must he now decapitalize it?

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Un-capitalize a word (with hyphen).

De-capitalize a bank (à la John Dillinger).

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In fact, according to Merriam-Webster's 3rd Unabridged, neither is a verb, although "uncapitalized" is an adjective. Try "change to lower case." That's what copyeditors do with a stroke through the improper capital and "lc" in the margin.

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French uses the verb "décapitalizer." I'm a teacher at a college, and I have seen the term "decapitalize" in textbooks. I suggest that you use this because of the French and the textbooks.

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I would suggest that if you want to tell your student to convert a capital to lower case, you should tell him or her to caplitalize. After all, removing bones from a chicken is called boning. I suppose de-boning would be, er, putting the bones back in. So, by analogy, de-capitalizing would be converting back to capitals and capitalizing would be setting to lower case. Isn't English fun?

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In Java programming, it is "uncapitalize": uncapitalize("This Is A String");

A google search turned up 152,000 hits for uncapitalize and 74,400 for decapitalize.

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